Thursday, December 20, 2012

Polvorones de Canele (Cinnamon Powdered Sugar Cookies)

Making cookies this year with my wonderful mother-in-law, she was so excited to find a recipe for polvorones de canele - powdered sugar cookies with cinnamon.  This Mexican twist on a butter cookie recipe is transformed by a simple, single ingredient - cinnamon.  Use the best quality of cinnamon and vanilla that you can afford as they are the driving flavors in this delicious cookie.

Celebrating the season and combining our cultures, I love the feeling of being able to help someone recreate memories and this was a great opportunity.  Not to mention the cookies were fabulous.  Exactly as she remembered them.

It was so wonderful to share culture and traditions, making cookies with my MIL each year is what lets me know that Christmas is coming.  It's been something we've done for 7 years now and I hope to never miss a Christmas baking with her, I always leave feeling at peace and inspired.


2 sticks (1 C.) butter ($1.00)
2/3 C. powdered sugar ($.15)
1 tsp. cinnamon ($.05)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract ($.05)
1 1/2 C. flour ($.15)

1/4 C. powdered sugar ($.05)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon ($.05)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease baking sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together 2/3 C. powdered sugar and butter until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Combine flour, salt, and 1 tsp. cinnamon; stir into the creamed mixture to form a stiff dough.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Mix together 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; roll balls in cinnamon mixture.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in preheated oven, or until nicely browned. Cool cookies on wire racks.

Yields: 36
Cost: $1.50
Cost per cookie : $.04

Butterscotch Blondies

There is just something about a cookie, warm and fresh from the oven, that fills me with a sense of home.  To call me a cookie addict in all honesty no stretch of the truth.  This portable, variable, customizable snack goes well with a boxed lunch, is elegant enough for tea time, and makes the kid in all of us smile.  I love cookies.

This season, I wanted to incorporate the iconic flavors of butterscotch into a cookie - but not a standard oatmeal cookie.  Don't get me wrong, I love oatmeal cookies, but pairing oatmeal and butterscotch is good, though not great.  I took a classic cookie dough base I've used for dozens of different cookies and swapped in butterscotch chips and a splash of rum extract, for a warm alternative to the oatmeal scotchies of the past.

To really kick up the flavor of the butterscotch, a pinch of two of nutmeg adds that perfect layer of intrigue and heat, making these cookies a huge hit with both kids and adults.

1/2 C. brown sugar ($.20)
1/2 C. granulated sugar ($.15)
1 stick of butter ($.50)
1 egg ($.15)
1 tsp. rum extract ($.15)
1/2 tsp. baking soda ($.05)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg ($.05)
2 C. flour ($.20)
1 C. butterscotch chips ($.50)


In a large mixing bowl, combine sugars and butter and cream together.  Add in egg and extract, mix well.  Dissolve baking soda in 1 T. hot water, add this to the batter.  Mix in nutmeg and flour until a semi-firm dough forms.  Stir in the butterscotch chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375F for 9-12 minutes, bake longer for a crunchy cookie.  Cookies are done when sides are lightly golden.

Remove cookies from cookie sheet to cool on a wire rack.

Yield: 30-36 cookies
Cost: $1.95
Cost per cookie: $.05-$.06

Hazelnut Crescents

Part of the holidays for me is baking cookies with my MIL and this year, one of the cookies she chose was the classic almond crescent.  While I love the classics, I have tons of chopped hazelnuts to use and thought they would compliment this cookie well and....a new favorite has emerged!
The mild flavor of the hazelnut pared with the classic flavor of vanilla really makes for a great cookie.  Rather than dipping mine in melted chocolate, I chose a simple glaze, to keep the flavors mild and perfect for pairing with tea, hot cider, coffee, or hot cocoa.  I love creating new recipes and the holidays are always an inspiration - with so many great flavors and textures, I'm always able to offer a little something new each holiday season on my cookie trays.  Though this isn't the only new cookie on the tray this year, it is by far my favorite - no offense, butterscotch blondies.  You might be good, but hazelnut that's my style.
2 C. (4 sticks) butter, softened ($2.00)
1 1/4 C. powdered sugar ($.25)
1 tsp. vanilla extract ($.10)
1/4 tsp. salt ($.05)
4 C. flour ($.25)
1 C. ground hazelnuts ($.30)
1/4 C. powdered sugar ($.10)
1-2 tsp. milk ($.05)
Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Mix well butter and powdered sugar until creamy.  Mix in salt and vanilla.  Slowly incorporate the flour, then the ground hazelnuts.

Shape dough into 2-inch crescents, using 1 Tbsp. dough for each. Place, 2 inches apart, on parchment- or foil-covered baking sheets. 
Bake 12 to 15 min. or until lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 2 min. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.
Mix together the powdered sugar and milk, brush glaze lightly over cooled cookies.  For an alternative to the glaze, you can sift powdered sugar over the cookies before they are completely cooled.
Yield: 72 cookies
Cost: $3.10
Cost per cookie: $.05

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Warm Autumn Granola with Currants and Apple Butter Syrup

Since I started making homemade granola a few weeks ago, I've been going through about a half a batch every 10 days or so.  I used to buy granola bars but the prices have gotten crazy and after scoring more than 12 pounds of oats for less than $2.50 - I'm having a field day making new combinations of granola.  It's easy, inexpensive, and it's a project that's perfect to squeeze in while I'm in the kitchen cooking anyway.

2 1/4 C. oats (quick or rolled oats) ($.15)
1/4 C. whole almonds ($.30)
1 tsp. cinnamon ($.05)
1/4 C. chopped hazelnuts ($.15)
1 T. butter, melted ($.10)
1/3 C. brown sugar ($.10)
1/4 C. apple juice ($.10)
1 C. bran or wheat flake cereal (I used bran flakes)($.15)
1/4 C. small currants (or you can use chopped raisins) ($.20)
2 T. each flour and white sugar ($.10)

Heat oven to 350.

Toss together oats, cinnamon, and almonds and spread evenly on a 13x9" baking sheet. Bake for 10-13 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

In a small skillet, toast the chopped hazelnuts until fragrant (2 to 3 minutes).  Remove from skillet into a large bowl.

Into the skillet, add the apple juice and brown sugar - stir to combine and simmer over low heat until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture starts to thicken slightly (3-5 minutes).  Turn off heat, stir in butter and let set.

Toss together oats and almonds with the hazelnuts, then pour the apple butter sauce over the oats and nuts, stirring to coat well.

Spread back on pan and return to oven for 12-15 minutes, stirring half way through the baking. The granola is done when it is golden and slightly firm to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, remove from pan.  Toss the currants with the white sugar and flour.  Crush the ceral and add the crushed cereal and currants to the warm granola.  Let set for 30 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container.

Yields: 3 1/2  C. granola or 14 servings
Cost: $1.40
Cost per serving: $.10

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cinnamon Raisin Coffee Cake

I find that it isn't necessity being the mother of invention, but often it can be laziness that helps me create new recipes.  While I could have made a tradition coffeecake, I had some small currants already on the counter from me making homemade granola yesterday that spurred me to create this recipe variation.

I love raisins and the tiny currants I picked up have all the flavor and a little less sweetness than the tradition raisins or golden raisins I usually buy, but they are perfect for when you want that chew and taste of raisins without adding too much sweetness, and their size is ideal for having a hint of flavor.

I have made a few modifications to the standard sour cream coffee cake recipe - swapping in lowfat or fat free yogurt for the sour cream and unsweetened applesauce for the butter or margarine.  Each of these changes helps lower the fat in the recipe without compromising flavor.

If you want a great season twist, you can swap in chopped dried cranberries for the currants, add 1/4 tsp. nutmeg to the cake batter, and add in 2-3 T. of honey for a little more richness and the flavors of the honey and nutmeg really do a great job at complimenting the natural tart bite and tanginess of the cranberries.

1/2 C. unsweetened applesauce ($.15)
1 C. white sugar ($.20)
1/2 C. dark brown sugar ($.15)
2 eggs ($.20)
1 C. fat free vanilla yogurt ($.35)
2 T. coffee creamer (free after coupon)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract ($.10)
2 C. all-purpose flour ($.15)
1 tsp. baking powder ($.05)
1 tsp. baking soda ($.05)

Streusel Mixture:
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon ($.10)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg ($.05)
1/2 C. brown sugar ($.10)
1/4 C. chopped raisins or small currants ($.20)

1. In a large bowl, blend together margarine, white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, sour cream, eggs, coffee creamer, and vanilla. Add to these ingredients the combined flour, baking powder, and soda. Blend until smooth.

2. To Make Streusel filling: Combine cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins or currants, and 1/2 cup brown sugar.

3. Grease and flour a large Bundt pan. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon mixture on top of the batter in the pan, and cover with the remaining batter.

4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool. Remove from pan.

Yields: 14 servings
Cost: $2.00
Cost per serving: $.15

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rosemary Cream Sauce with Mushrooms

I have looked for the right compliment to my classic roasted pork tenderloin for a few years now and I have finally come up with a rich sauce that marries the flavors in this lean cut of meat with some creaminess and herbs that really give a huge flavor boost to the meal.

I'm not a huge fan of spending a lot of extra time in the kitchen, though I really did want something a little more robust and hearty than serving the pork in its own pan drippings.  And for me, a standard gravy did not have the depth of flavor and intensity that I was looking for.  Since I season the pork tenderloin with Italian herbs, sometimes tossing in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary to give the pork some extra flavor, a gravy tends to mask the flavors rather than highlighting them the way I'd prefer.

In this recipe, I use the pan drippings I already get from the pork to get a sauce that contains just the right nuances of flavor.  This can work wonders with roasted chicken, just use the pan drippings to get all the flavor you need to really make your meal fancy and delicious.

What I love about this sauce is how quickly it comes together.  If you have your mushrooms chopped and sauteed, it takes less than 5 minutes to make this sauce.  And if you are entertaining and want something a little different than a traditional gravy, this sauce is just the ticket.  Even if you are not a fan of rosemary, you favorite fresh herb (like sage or thyme) can work just as well in this versatile recipe.

1 sprig of rosemary ($.20)
8 mushrooms, sliced thin ($.35)
1 T. olive oil ($.10)
1 1/2 T. butter ($.20)
1 T. white wine (optional) ($.10)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)
1 C. pan drippings (free)
1/3 C. heavy cream ($.35)
2 T. cornstarch ($.15)

In a large skillet, add olive oil and butter and melt over low heat.  When butter is melted, add in sprig of rosemary and let the rosemary infuse for 2-3 minutes.  Remove rosemary and add sliced mushrooms, raising the heat to medium high and cook until mushrooms are lightly browned and tender - 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season mushrooms to taste.  Add in wine and cook until wine reduces by half, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add pan drippings (or chicken stock) to mushrooms and bring to a simmer (1 to 2 minutes).  Whisk together heavy cream and cornstarch, pour slowly into pan of simmering mushrooms, cook at a low simmer until sauce reach desired consistency.  Serve hot over sliced pork tenderloin.

Yields = 6 servings

Cost: $1.50
Cost per serving: $.25

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Easy Grill Seasoning

I have tried dozens of grill seasoning recipes - looking for that ultimate balance of sweet and savory, smoky and peppery - and I've finally found one that really delivers on flavor.  Not too salty or too peppery, I've used this on chicken and pork with phenomenal results.

Now that I've found a good (and affordable) grill seasoning, I've made up about 2 cups worth, and this joins my Italian dressing style seasoning and my perfect pork ribs seasoning blends.  It's hard to create that right balance, but this blend gives a balance of smoky sweet flavor that is better than any other grill seasoning I've ever bought or made.

2 1/2 tsps. salt ($.05)
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper ($.05)
1/2 tsp. fresh ground white pepper ($.05)
1 tsp. smoked sweet paprika ($.10)
1 tsp. garlic powder ($.05)
1 1/4 tsp. toasted onion powder ($.05)
1/2 tsp. hickory smoked salt ($.05)
1/4 tsp. cumin ($.05)

Combine all and use to season pork, beef, chicken, or turkey.  For best results, seasoning meat or poultry 30 minutes to an hour before grilling.

Yields - 1 batch
Cost: $.45

Sage Stuffed Chicken Thighs with Lemon, Herb, and White Wine

I had a package of chicken thighs in my fridge that I needed to cook and to me, nothing says comfort food like roasted chicken - especially the dark meat.  I didn't have too much of a plan, initially I thought to stuff the chicken thighs with herbed mushrooms, but got to lazy to get the mushrooms prepped.

What I did have on hand was an open bottle of white wine, a lemon I needed to use before it got hard, and a pantry full of herbs and some fresh sage in the fridge.  With a few pantry staples, like olive oil and Italian salad dressing, I put together this new recipe.

Very affordable and easy to make, the prep time here was about 5 minutes.  Yes, getting chicken ready for the oven is really that easy and it always tastes moist and juicy after you roast it.

If you are a big fan of Mexican food, a few simple substitutions will give you fajita, burrito, or taco ready chicken in no time at all.  Just swap in lime juice for lemon, taco seasoning or a combination of cumin, paprika, onion, garlic, cayenne or chili powder, and oregano for the Italian spices I used and you are good to go.

If I'm lucky enough to have any of this leftover, I'll be fixing a chicken and rice soup and making a pizza blanco with it.  Leftover chicken never lasts very long in my house and often times I'll double an easy recipe like this just to give me something to work with for later on in the week.  Even chicken and mozzarella enchiladas and quesadillas are a great (and fast and easy) weeknight dinner to make from the leftover chicken this recipe could yield.

juice of 1 lemon ($.10)
3 T. white wine ($.10)
2 T. olive oil ($.15)
2 T. Italian salad dressing (free after coupons)
1 tsp. each: garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and rosemary ($.10)
1/2 tsp. each thyme and white pepper ($.05)
2 tsps. each salt and basil ($.05)
3 cloves garlic, minced ($.10)
1 onion, roughly sliced ($.05)
2 T. canola oil ($.05)
4 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on ($.95)
8 sage leaves ($.10)

Heat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, combine all the spices well and add to this white wine, lemon, minced garlic, salad dressing, and olive oil.  Stir well.

Add canola oil to bottom of a baking dish (3 q.t or smiliar size).
Toss onion in the bottom of the prepared pan.

Place 2 ssage leaves under the skin of each piece of chicken.  Top with the spice mixture, coating the chicken pieces well with the mixture.

Bake uncovered at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 175F.
Let chicken rest 10 minutes before serving.

Yields = 4 servings
Cost: $1.80
Cost per serving: $.45

Friday, September 21, 2012

Little Bit of Leftovers - part 1

Cooking for two can be a little challenging, but it helps if you are willing to ear leftovers.  Which we are.  Sometimes, we can eat leftovers for a few days before I need to cook again, though my husband draws the line at eating spaghetti more than twice a week.

Some of the things I've learned along the way of cooking (and dealing with a slightly stubborn spouse) is that giving leftovers a facelift, or makeover, keeps the meals interesting and keeps me from eating spaghetti for 5 days straight.

For those that are looking for some new inspiration to keep the leftovers moving or just for quick throw-together meals for busy weeknights, here are some of my tried and true ways to move leftovers out of the fridge without throwing away food.

Leftover veggies and fruits:
If you have half an onion, part of a pepper, some garlic, mushrooms, some leftover celery, carrots, or tomato, here are some tips to use it up.

1.  Homemade stock.  Using a standard mirepoix (the holy French trinity of celery, carrots, and onion) and some aromatics like garlic, herbs, and even peppers - you can have an amazing stock that can do wonders.  Stock can be used:
In soups and chowders (cream of broth/stock based)
As a base for gravy
To roast meat in (gives roasted chicken and pork tons of flavor)
Replaces water when cooking rice
As a flavor base for sauces
Works well when making homemade dressing or stuffing

2.  Salsa.  Salsa is a great way to make small bits of vegetables disappear and can even be used with fruit.  When making a fruit salsa, simply replace the tomato portion with mango, peach, pineapple, apple, or even some varieties of melon (cantaloupe works well).  Adjust your seasoning (use slightly less onion and pepper for fruit based salsas) accordingly.

3.  Pies, Crisp, and Cobbler. If you have some fruit that you need to use up and have a fair amount of it, making it into pie filling or cobbler is a great way to go.  If you want to make pie filling ahead of time, for apple and other fruit based pies, simply cut up the fruit into bite sized pieces, toss with flour and sugar (1/4 C. each 2-3 C. chopped fruit).  Toss to coat the fruit well and freeze.  Thaw and pour into pie crust when ready to bake.  If you have complimentary fruits, it's best to freeze separately or you can make a cobbler or crisp, depending on the topping your prefer.

4.  Taco night!  Everybody loves Mexican food and when you brown ground beef, chicken, or turkey, it's so easy to sneak in some extra veggies.  I usually chop up half a medium onion, half a pepper, and a few cloves of garlic for every pound of ground turkey I cook up.  With a couple of hearty seasonings like oregano, chili powder, cumin, and a pinch of red pepper (if you like) you've got some excellent filling for tacos without buying those little overpriced seasoning packets at the store.

5.  Shepherds pie.  Another easy way to fold veggies into a quick meal, this British classic has seen quite a few modern updates and can easily use small amount of peas, carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes while making an easy dish to feed your family or a hearty dish for two.

6.  Soups, chili, stews, and sauce.  Soups and veggies go so well together, it's a match made in heaven.  Got some leftover meat bones?  Make it into a stew!  Pasta sauce is a favorite place for me to hide pieces of vegetable before they get overripe.  I love doing an arribiata sauce with some peppers and lots of garlic, adding in a little leftover wine and serving over gnocchi or pasta.  Chili can be a great place to use leftover peppers, tomato, beans, and small scraps of meat (if you're a meat eater).

7.  Smoothie time!  Leftover berries, overripe bananas, and many other fruits can combine with a little calcium from yogurt and a splash of milk to give a great breakfast on the go or a delish treat for after work or school or a healthier alternative to a rich dessert.

8.  Omelets and frittatas.  I love using leftover veggies, especially mushrooms in a heart omelet.  A couple of eggs, some salt and pepper, a little cheese and I'm in heaven! 

9.   Breads and muffins.  A nice way to use herbs and fruits, making homemade muffins is a great touch to any meal - breakfast, a hearty brunch, or to a rich dinner.  Make an herbed bread or an herbed butter to pair with a classic bread, use some leftover veggies like tomato and onion to top a foccacia, fold some berries into muffins, chop some apples and toss with cinnamon and add to the batter of sweet muffins, or fold bananas into banana bread.

10.  Cakes, bars, and fillings.  Make a classic pound cake and top with mascerated strawberries, fold some juice from a few limes into a pie filling, or cook down some berries to make a smooth filling to a layered cake.  Use orange zest in a batch of dark chocolate brownies or fold some raspberries
into the batter for some bars.  There are endless opportunities to use what you have on hand - never miss a moment to use some goodies in new ways.  Your taste buds will thank you for it.

Next week, I'll have some ideas ready for using leftover meats and cheeses!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Penne in a Sage Butter with Cremini Mushrooms

I've been in love with cooking with fresh sage for several weeks now - ever since my hubby and I saw a Cooking Channel show using this ingredient.  We started working with it when we made homemade ravioli.

We had a bit leftover and it keeps for about 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge, so I've had some time to experiment with it.  It's far more hardy than basil and rosemary, so it keeps extremely well.

It's another huge hit for us, sage has a natural earthiness and in its fresh form, it's far less overpowering than using dry sage (which I'm not a huge fan of).

I do love to use dry herbs in cooking - both for the cost and the convenience - but fresh herbs like rosemary and sage can be had for as little as $1 or $2 at most grocery stores in Chicagoland.  It's a small splurge that is well worth it and if you have a lot of the herbs leftover, simply hang them to dry and use them as dried herbs, just like you would store bought dry herbs.

I love pairing hearty herbs with mushrooms and sage is a natural pairing.  All you have to do is melt some butter over low heat, stir in some olive oil, and add 1 sage leaf for every tablespoon of butter and oil.  It's so simple to put this together, the bold flavor of sage takes only a few minutes to infuse into the butter and the mushrooms do a great job of absorbing the flavors.

If you do not have wine on hand or do not normally drink wine, a good substitute for this is chicken or vegetable stock.  It's better to use broth or stock versus water.

You could also add in heavy cream for a richer sauce.  I like the layer of flavor that wine adds and any variety of white wine will work, from chardonnay to riesling to even a moscato, they all can work well in this (and most) recipes that call for white wine.

A favorite place to look for deals on wine is at Trader Joe's.  They have a good selection of organic and California wines at very fair prices.  If you seldom use wine to cook with, buy a small bottle (sampler size), since you use very little in the recipe, it's an affordable way to go in the dish.

1/4 lb. penne or small shells (free after coupons)
3-4 small sage leaves ($.15)
2 T. butter ($.15)
1 T. olive oil ($.10)
8 cremini mushrooms, sliced ($.40)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)
2-3 T. white wine ($.20)
3 T. parmesan cheese ($.10)
1 tsp. parsley, optional ($.05)

Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente, salt the water generously before adding the pasta.

Melt butter over a medium low heat in a medium nonstick skillet, stir in olive oil and add sage leaves.  Let the sage lightly fry to 3-5 minutes, or until sage is fragrant.  Remove sage leaves and add in sliced mushrooms.  When mushrooms are tender and lightly browned, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add in wine and 2 T. parmesan, continue cooking over medium low heat, until a light sauce forms.  Ladle in 3-4 T. of pasta water, stirring to combine with white wine mushroom mixture.

Drain pasta and add to sauce, cooking over low heat for 2-3 minutes, until sauce and pasta are well combined.  If sauce is thin, add more parmesan, if sauce is too thick, add more cooking liquid.

Top with parmesan and parsley.

Yields = 3 servings (as a side dish)
Cost: $1.20
Cost per serving: $.40

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Homemade Granola on a Budget

I am a granola bar addict - it's one of the few splurges I used to allow in the budget, but with couponing deals becoming more and more difficult to come by, I've finally broken down and given making it a shot.  I'm so glad I did!

I found a few recipes online and in some of my cookbooks, but I didn't have most of the "extra" ingredients that they called for.  So I had to get a little creative....

What I did have on hand was chopped hazelnuts (for $1.99/lb. from Caputos), whole almonds ($2.99/lb.), dark chocolate chips ($1.99/lb.), and maple syrup ($1.29 for a bottle from the last big coupon sale).  I made some quick swaps in and really liked how these turned out.  I made more of a rustic granola versus a neat, compact granola bar, but after making these from scratch, I'm hooked.

There are loads of recipes floating around for homemade granola - I found a lot of them called for expensive ingredients (honey, specialty dried fruits, pecans, etc.) so I made a lot of changes to fit what I already had on hand...and I was too lazy to go to the store, anyway.

I love the idea of having homemade granola on hand, so I did a lot of tweaks to a recipe I found and made half a batch - which is more than enough for 2 people.  Though, in my house, I'm the only granola fan so it made a HUGE batch for me.  Since I've been snacking it off and on since I made it, that's a great sign that the recipe is a keeper.

Feel free to swap in what you love and this will be a great breakfast or treat, perfect for this time of year.  This granola is not very sweet, if you prefer a sweeter snack, I've included an optional amount of brown sugar for sweetness.  When I make it again, I would probably add the brown sugar, as I like it sweeter.

I can't wait to have my newest treat with yogurt in the morning and for a late night snack.

1 1/2 C. oats (quick or rolled oats) ($.25)
1/3 C. whole almonds ($.40)
1/3 C. chopped hazelnuts ($.25)
1/2 C. maple syrup ($.50)
1 T. butter, melted ($.10)
1 T. vegetable oil ($.10)
* 1/4 C. brown sugar ($.10) *this ingredient is optional, if you prefer a sweeter granola
1 tsp. cinnamon ($.05)
1 C. bran or wheat flake cereal (I used Frosted Flakes)($.15)
1/2 C. dark chocolate chips ($.50)

Heat oven to 325.

Toss together oats and nuts and spread evenly on a 13x9" baking sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

Whisk together maple syrup, melted butter, brown sugar (optional), and cinnamon.

Toss together oat and nut mixture with maple syrup blend.

Spread back on pan and return to oven for 12-18 minutes, checking half way through the baking.  The granola is done when it is golden and slightly firm to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan to an airtight container.  Stir in cereal and chocolate chips.

Yields: 3 1/2 to 4 C. granola or 10 servings
Cost: $2.40
Cost per serving: $.24

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Penne with Sage Butter and 3 Meat Chardonnay Sauce

Inspired by Olive Garden's 3-Meat Chianti sauce, I figured it was a simple sauce, but for my taste could use a little bit of a spice boost, so I grabbed an open bottle of wine and got started.  I love using leftover wine for pasta sauce and this made a world of difference to an otherwise American staple of pasta bolognese.  This time I had less than a quarter of a bottle of a nice California Chardonnay in my fridge, which worked wonderfully.

I had some veggies to use up and made a veggie stock while preparing the pasta sauce, so when I needed a little liquid in my sauce, I just ladled in a little homemade veggie stock, fortified with lots of herbs and a splash of balsamic vinegar, it's a great way to clean out odds and ends in the fridge and it makes soups, sauces, and gravies taste fantastic, but that's a post for another day.  I'm addicted to using and creating homemade stock and love the simplicity of the process.

3/4 lb. penne (free after coupons)
1 small onion, minced ($.05)
6 cremini or button mushrooms, chopped fine ($.30)
1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped fine ($.20)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)
1 T. olive oil ($.10)
1 T. butter ($.10)
4 oz. bulk mild or hot Italian sausage ($.35)
4 oz. pork sausage ($.20)
4 oz. browned ground turkey ($.30)
1/2 tsp. fennel seed ($.05)
3/4 tsp. oregano ($.05)
3 cloves garlic, minced ($.10)
1 1/2 tsp. basil ($.10)
1/3 C. chardonnay, or your favorite wine ($.45)
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes ($.50)
8 oz can tomato sauce (free after coupons)
3-4 T. parmesan cheese ($.20)
1/4 C. chicken or veggie stock (free)
Sage butter ($.40)
6 slices provolone cheese ($.60)

Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente.

Heat oven to 350.

In a large skillet, add oil and butter over medium heat.  Cook onions and peppers, season lightly with salt and pepper, until oil is slightly red and onions are tender.  Stir in basil, fennel, garlic, oregano, and mushrooms.  Cook for 3-5 minutes or until mushrooms (season with salt and pepper) are just tender, then add pork, Italian sausage, and ground turkey.  Brown ground meat until cooked thoroughly.
Deglaze pan with wine and let wine reduce by half.  Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce and half of chicken or veggie stock.  Cook over low heat on a light simmer for 15 minutes, add in parmesan to thicken sauce by tablespoonful, adjusting until sauce reaches desired consistency.  If sauce tightens up too much, add more stock or tomato sauce, do not add water (it will dilute the flavors of the sauce).

Toss pasta cooked to al dente with sage butter, then fold into the pasta sauce.
Pour into a 2 qt. oven safe baking dish, top with Provolone cheese, and bake at 350 for 7-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Serve with salad and garlic bread.

Yields: 5-6 servings
Cost: $4.10
Cost per person: $.82

Sage Butter

This sounds ridiculously simple, but it's the perfect pairing with any pasta - even one where you want a hearty red sauce or a creamy, dreamy Alfredo.  I've paired this simple 5-minute, 4 ingredient recipe with homemade garlic, mushroom, and prosciutto stuffed ravioli and with store bought penne, with fantastic results.

Very inexpensive and easy to make, this works wonders on pasta and would pair nicely with pork loin, beef, and roasted chicken and turkey.

3 leaves of fresh sage ($.10)
1 1/2 T. butter ($.15)
1 T olive oil ($.10)
1 clove garlic, minced ($.05)

In a very small pan, add olive oil and butter, heat over low until the oil and butter has melted completely.  Add in sage leaves and garlic, let simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.  Turn off heat and let set for 3-5 minutes.

Drizzle over beef, pork, poultry, or pasta.

Yields - 1 batch
Cost: $.40

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lemon Roasted Shrimp and Red Pepper Pasta

1/2 medium raw pound shrimp ($3.00)
2 lemons ($.40)
2 T. olive oil ($.15)
4 T. butter ($.25)
salt and pepper ($.05)
2 cloves garlic, crushed ($.10)
1 1/2 tsp. basil ($.05)
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped finely ($.15)
1/2 lb. angel hair or linguine pasta (free after coupons)

Heat oven to 400.
Set a large of pot of water to boil for the pasta.  Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente.

Peel and devein shrimp, rinse throroughly and pat dry.  Lay shrimp in a single layer on a baking sheet drizzled with 1 T. olive oil.  Sprinkle shrimp with 1/2 tsp. basil and juice of one lemon.
Bake shrimp for 8 to 10 minutes, until shrimp are no longer transparent and they start to curl up.

In a nonstick pan, add 3 T. butter and melt over medium low heat.  Add chopped peppers and sautee over low heat.  Once peppers are tender crisp, add the zest one lemon and crushed garlic to the pan of butter.  Season with salt and pepper, add in remaining basil.

Once pasta is done, add pasta and 1/4 C. of starchy cooking liquid to the pan with the peppers, cook on low for 2-3 minutes, add in additional tablespoon of butter and a drizzle of olive oil.  Toss in shrimp and serve with an additional squeeze of lemon over the top.

Yields: 3 servings
Cost: $4.15
Cost per serving: $1.39

Another style of presentation?
Omit pasta and chop shrimp finely after roasting for a bold dip that serves well on salty crackers, flat breads, and sliced Italian bread for an appetizer course.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Blueberry Lemon Coffee Cake

Though this recipe doesn't embrace the red, white, and blue - I needed a quick gift for my father-in-law's birthday (yes, he was born on the 4th of July) and he loves coffee cake.  Though I have a yummy recipe for a traditional sour cream coffeecake, blueberries are in season (and I have a partial container in the fridge to use up) and I just picked up 10 lemons for only $2 yesterday, so a variation was definitely in order.  I love the flavors of blueberry and lemon together, something about the sweet berries and the tart, refreshing lemon that makes my mouth sing.

Since I am all about using what is in season and most affordable, this was the perfect time to try this variation - a recipe concept I've been meaning to try for some months now.  To make this recipe lower in fat and calories, I swap out part of the butter for unsweetened applesauce, yogurt for the sour cream, and add in tons of flavor with lemon zest and vanilla.  A few key ingredients can go a very long way.

There are a multitude of variations you can try with in season fruit when it comes to a classic coffee cake recipe.  In the fall, I'll try a white chocolate raspberry coffeecake or a cinnamon apple coffeecake and in the winter, a mocha cocoa coffee cake would be just the right compliment to a cold glass of milk or eggnog.  Hmm...speaking of eggnog, I think I'm going to draft a variation on this recipe that uses eggnog and a splash of rum.  For spring brunches, peach cobbler inspired coffeecake will be refreshing and yummy.  The traditional coffeecake is always in season and works great as a gift - especially for those that love their coffee in the morning.

Infinite possibilities, a Bundt pan, some pantry basics, and you'll never buy a store bought coffee cake again.  Trust me.  This recipe is ridiculously easy and it's perfect for someone like me that is not great at frosting any kind of cake.  Take all the credit for this tasty treat and don't forget to lick the bowl...that's the best part!

1 1/4 sticks of butter or margarine ($.20)
1/2 C. unsweetened applesauce ($.10)
2/3 C. white sugar ($.10)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar ($.10)
1 cup nonfat yogurt ($.35)
1  egg ($.10)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla ($.05)
2 T. liquid coffee creamer ($.05)
zest and juice of one lemon ($.20)
2 cups all-purpose flour ($.20)
1 teaspoon baking powder ($.05)
1 teaspoon baking soda ($.05)
1/8 tsp. nutmeg ($.05)
1/2 C. fresh or frozen (thawed) blueberries ($.25)

In a large mixing bowl, blend together butter or margarine, applesauce, white sugar, brown sugar, yogurt, egg, lemon juice, zest, coffee creamer, and extract. Add to these ingredients the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and soda. Blend until smooth.

*I drop in the blueberries as I'm pouring the batter into the pan so I don't break the berries and have purple streaks in my coffee cake.  It's mostly for aesthetics, if it's easier for you to fold in the berries and pour the batter, that is fine too.

Grease and flour a large Bundt pan.

Pour 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Drop blueberries on top of the batter in the pan, and repeat with the next 1/3 of the batter, sprinkle more blueberries, and finally cover with the remaining batter, smoothing the top so it's even and blueberries are covered.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool.

Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Yields: 16 servings
Cost: $1.85
Cost per serving: $.12

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mixed Berry Lemon Cheese Cake Bars

Continuning my week of lemon based recipes, this idea I found on another blog but modified it to fit what I had handy.  I had just made a batch of blueberry, cherry, apple, and strawberry jam a few nights earlier - it's my favorite way to use up over ripe fruit and clean out the fridge - and I came across this recipe.  With a few quick alterations, it was ready to go.


4 T. butter, softened ($.25)
1/3 C. light brown sugar ($.10)
1 C. flour ($.05)
1/4 C. finely chopped hazelnuts ($.10)
2/3 C. sugar ($.10)
1 (8 oz.) pkg. light cream cheese, softened (free after coupons)
1 egg ($.10)
1 T. milk ($.05)
2 T. lemon juice ($.05)
1/2 tsp. vanilla ($.05)
1 1/3 C. fresh mixed berry jam ($.30)


Heat oven to 350.

In a medium bowl blend thoroughly butter, brown sugar and flour with a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in chopped hazelnuts.  Put 1 cup of the mixture aside for topping. Press remaining mixture into an 8" square inch greased baking dish.

Bake for 15 minutes. After cooling for a few minutes, spread the jam on top.

In a separate bowl, combine sugar and cream cheese, mixing until smooth. Thoroughly beat in egg, milk, lemon juice and vanilla. Spread over the baked crust and sprinkle with remaining brown sugar mixture.  Top with additional chopped hazelnuts, if desired.

Bake for 23 to 25 minutes
Let cool, then chill for at least 1 hour.

Yields: 12-16 servings
Cost: $1.15
Cost per serving: $.10

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Raspberry Lemonade Cake

I found an adorable recipe online for a pink lemonade cake.  Perfect for summer and perfectly sweet and tart....but it needed.....something.  So what do I like in pink lemonade - RASPBERRIES.  Yup, that's the way I roll, fresh and fruity, and definitely with an extra hint of flavor.

There is nothing better than a cake that combines 2 things I love.  The fresh flavor of lemon and raspberries.  We live somewhat near (less than an hour drive) several you pick it farms that have raspberries so I always have a few pounds of them tucked in my freezer.  This was just the excuse I needed to get them out and into a yummy dessert.

My husband is not especially fond of lemon desserts (though he loves lemonade, so go figure - actually if you do figure it out, please let me know, I'm curious as hell), but found the flavors here to be balanced and not too, well, lemony.  The fresh berries folded in gives this cake alot of extra flavor and it looks absolutely beautiful when you slice into it.

Always handle berries carefully - this rule goes double for frozen berries, as they can lose their shape easily.

1 French vanilla cake mix ($.75)
3 eggs ($.30)
1 ¼ cup water (free)
1/2 tsp. raspberry extract ($.15)
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce ($.15)
2 tbsp raspberry lemonade mix ($.05)
A few drops of red food coloring, if desired
1/3 C. raspberries (fresh or frozen) ($.35)

1 container of butter cream frosting ($.85)
1-2 T. raspberry lemonade mix ($.15)
1 tsp. milk ($.05)
12-14 small fresh raspberries, for garnish if desired
1 lemon, sliced in half and into thin slices, for additional garnish as desired

Mix all the cake ingredients except raspberries until well incorporated.  Gently fold raspberries into cake batter.

Pour batter into two greased 8" or 9" round pans. Bake for 30 minutes on 350 degrees, or until lightly golden on top and toothpick in center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, dissolve lemonade mix in either water or milk, then combine this with the store bought frosting.  I know I could make it from scratch, but I was lazy and tired of being in the kitchen.  It all of us.  Or that's what I tell myself when I feel that way. If you don't get this way, then keep it to your self, leave me my subtle delusions.  When the cake is gone, that may very well be all I have.  Until inspiration strikes again, anyway.  Sorry for the tangent, it's just one of those days.

Place one cake on plate and frost the top. Add the second cake and frost the whole thing. This is where it gets a little dicey, I never am neat at frosting anything and this was no exception.  If it looked less sloppy I would have been excited to take a picture, but alas...such is not my life.

Keep covered in fridge and serve chilled and topped with fresh berries and thin slices of lemon.  A side note: garnishing the cake helps hide less than pretty frosting application, at least it does for me.  Never be afraid of garnishing a cake well, it looks fancy and people instantly think you are amazing - which is great for the ego.

Yields: 16 servings
Cost: $2.80
Cost per serving: $.18

Friday, June 15, 2012

Easy Chicken and Veggie Empanadas

Easy Entertaining with Empanadas

I was looking for some new ways to use leftover roasted chicken - a staple of my diet, especially when the weather is cool enough for me to use the oven.  One of the ways I discovered to use leftover chicken is in the appetizer course.  From BBQ chicken pizza or any kind of flatbread pizza to creamy croquettes, to it being a common topping for tostada, a main ingredient in my Italian style chicken salad sammies, to making a pulled chicken BBQ sandwich, and a great way to give grilled cheese a hearty protein boost, I'm exploring every possible way to use the delicous roasted chicken that I tend to have in my fridge.

After a second great dinner of empanadas, I cannot wait to serve these to friends and family when I host my monthly Sunday lunch.  The filling for these is a total do-ahead and the dough comes together quickly and effortlessly so this will be an ideal appetizer for entertaining.  I love any recipe for entertaining that I can do all or part of ahead of time and this is definitely my latest go-to and they pair well with cocktails, beer, or a pitcher of my classic mango sangria with moscato.

1 C. self rising flour ($.25)
1/2 T. sugar ($.05)
1/2 T. shortening ($.10)
1/4 C. warm water (free)

1 egg white, whisked with 1 tsp water ($.10)
Frying oil

1 T. olive oil ($.10)
1 T. butter ($.10)
1 small white onion, minced ($.05)
1/4 medium bell pepper, minced (any color, I used orange) ($.10)
6 white button mushrooms or 1 portabella, rough chopped ($.25)
pinch of Mexican oregano
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)
3/4 C. roasted chicken ($.30)
1 T. parmesan ($.05)
1/4 C. shredded sharp cheddar ($.20)
To Make the Dough:
Combine the sugar and water til sugar is dissolved.
Cut shortening into the flour, then combine the water with the flour, working until a soft dough starts to form.
Roll out on floured surface and roll dough to 1/4" thickness.

Use your smallest biscuit cutter (2" size) and cut out 20-24 circles. Dust the circles again with flour and roll out to roughly double their original size.

To Make the Filling - note that this filling is similar to making the filling for croquettes, the recipes can be swapped out easily, just be lighter on the seasonings with the empanadas:

Heat olive oil in a medium sized pan over low heat, add in butter and melt completely.  Stir in minced onion and sweat 3-5 minutes.  Stir in pepper and mushroom, season well with salt and pepper.
Lightly shred the chicken and add this to the sautee veggie blend, heating through.  Stir in parmesan and Mexican oregano, another pinch of salt and pepper, to taste.  Cool 10-15 minutes before using the filling in the empanadas.  Filling that is too warm makes the dough harder to work with.

Assemble the Empanadas:
Brush the dough with egg wash, add 1/2 T. each cheese and chicken, fold in half and press edges together using a fork to seal completely.

Fry in oil at 350 for 1-2 minutes per side, until the dough is golden and the empanadas are puffed and firm.  Drain on paper towel and serve with guacamole and sour cream.

Yields: 20 mini empanadas
Cost: $1.70
Cost per empanada: $.09

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cilantro Lime Pork Steaks

A fun take on Mexican dining, this refreshing recipe makes an inexpensive cut of meat - the pork steak - take center stage and the bold flavor of lime and cilantro marry well with inexpensive sides like tortillas (36 ct. for $1.09), rice (pennies per serving), and refried beans ($.69 a pound), and all your favorite taco toppings.

Super easy to entertain with, this looks and tastes like you've slaved over the meal while keeping your energy, and money, safe for another day!
Serve with your favorite Margaritas for a refreshing end to a hot day.

4 pork steaks, approximately 1 3/4 to 2 pounds ($3.20)
juice of 3 limes ($.15)
3-4 T. olive oil ($.25)
1 1/2 T. minced garlic (about 3-4 large cloves) ($.20)
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder ($.05)
1 1/2 tsp. salt ($.05)
2 T. finely chopped cilantro ($.10)

Zest 2 of the limes, then juice yur limes into a large bowl.

Combine all ingredients except pork steaks and whisk well until a thick marinade comes together. Marinade pork in this mixture for 2-3 hours. Grill or pan fry over medium heat until seared on one side and turn over, cook another 3-4 minutes to sear the other side.

Serve with tortillas, beans, rice, fresh salsa, shredded lettuce, black olives, and sour cream.

Yields: 4 servings
Cost: $4.00
Cost per serving: $1.00

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Accidental Empanada

When trying to make a batch of beignets, my husband and I accidentally discovered a great recipe for empanadas. Let me explain...the dough for the beignets didn't puff, wasn't sweet, and fried up slightly puffed, but it wasn't winnning any prizes. After frying the second batch (of 5 small batches), my huband was ready to toss the remaining dough in the garbage. Since we had some roasted chicken in the fridge that was leftover and needed to be used, I asked if he'd mind if I tried a little experiment.

I shredded up a little chicken, rolled the dough even thinner and stuffed it with chicken. I tried 3 with simple, leftover roasted chicken and I knew we were on to something. Though the filling was a little dry, we were inspired. My husband marched back into the kitchen with me hot on his heels, he asked me to get out the shredded cheese and leftover ground turkey (from our enchilada night a few days ago) and he started rolling out the beignet circles and brushing them with butter.

I just jumped in and started filling and sealing them and a recipe was born. We had found the perfect dough for empanadas, which are a huge favorite of mine, but few restaurants in the area make them well or offer them at all. This is my new go-to treat, the dough is tender and flaky, the filling was full of flavor and the cheese made everything bind together beautifully. The butter didn't hold as well as hoped, but a simple egg wash did the trick beautifully and we finally had the empanadas I've always dreamed of, flaky, tender, delicious....and now, with my favorite taco filling (browned ground turkey and veggies) with melted, gooey cheese.

Here is the recipe:

2 C. self rising flour ($.50)
1 T. sugar ($.05)
1 T. shortening ($.20)
1/2 C. warm water (free)

1 egg white, whisked with 1 tsp water ($.10)
Frying oil


1/2 C. roasted chicken, browned ground beef or turkey, leftover taco filling, or shredded pork ($.25)
1/2 C. shredded cheese, any Mexican or cheddar blend - I used munster and colby jack ($.25)

Combine the sugar and water til sugar is dissolved.
Cut shortening into the flour, then combine the water with the flour, working until a soft dough starts to form.
Roll out on floured surface and roll dough to 1/4" thickness.

Use your smallest biscuit cutter (2" size) and cut out 20-24 circles. Dust the circles again with flour and roll out to roughly double their original size.

Brush edges with egg wash and fill with 1 1/2 tsp. each cheese and meat filling of your choice. Seal edges with a fork, pressing firmly to seal.

Fry in 1" oil at 325F in a medium sized pan, frying 2-3 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels before serving.
Serve with salsa, sour cream, or guacamole.

Yields: 20-24 mini empanadas
Cost: $1.40
Cost per empanada: $.07

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Smoky Pork and Cilantro Flatbread Pizza

1 premade pizza dough ($1.00)
1 T. olive oil ($.05)
1/2 C. cooked pork roast, lightly shredded ($.30)
1/4 large red onion ($.10)
6 T. BBQ sauce (free after coupon)
1-2 T. orange or apple juice ($.05)
2 T. chopped cilantro ($.05)
3/4 C. shredded munster or mozzarella cheese ($.75)
1/2 C. colby jack or mild cheddar cheese ($.50)

Roll out premade pizza crust and brush with olive oil.
Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes, or as directed.

Slice onion very thin.
Whisk BBQ sauce with juice until the sauce is easy to drizzle and spread.

Top pizza evenly with thin onion slices and shredded pork and sprinkle evenly with cheese.
Bake for 10-14 minutes, when cheese is melted and crust is firm and golden, pizza is done. Top with cilantro and cut into small squares to serve.

Yields: 16 pizza aquares
Cost: $2.80
Yields: 8 appetizer portions or 2 dinner sized servings

5 Minute Marinades: White Wine and Herb Marinade

1/3 C. white wine ($.20)
2 T. lemon juice ($.10)
1 T. honey ($.10)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)
2 tsp. rosemary ($.05)
1 tsp. basil ($.05)
3 cloves garlic, minced ($.05)
1/2 tsp. thyme ($.05)
1/2 tsp. corn starch ($.05)

Whisk together corn starch and herbs, whisk in lemon juice, honey, and white wine.

Yields: enough marinade for 3-4 lbs. of poultry and meat
Cost: $.70 per batch

Is good for use on or with:

Seafood and Fish: marinade 30 minutes
Grilled Fruits marinade 30 minutes
Poultry - marinade for 2-3 hours
Pork - marinade up to 6 hours
Beef - marinade overnight

Works well if you are pan frying, roasting, or grilling - this marinade is very light and versatile.

5 Minute Marinades - Tangy Red Wine Marinade

I love whipping up a quick marinade and this was certainly no exception.
The full body flavors in young red wine pair nicely with citrus juice and the bite of fresh or ground ginger.

1/4 C. red wine ($.25)
2-3 T. orange juice ($.15)
1/2 tsp. salt ($.05)
1 T. olive oil ($.10)
1 tsp. garlic powder or 2 cloves garlic minced ($.05)
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper ($.05)
1/4 tsp. black pepper ($.05)
1/4 tsp. ground ginger ($.05)

Whisk together all ingredients and use this marinade with pork or beef.
Marinate for 1-2 hours for pork, 6 hours to overnight for beef.

Yields: enough marinde for 3-4 lbs. of meat
Cost per batch: $.75

Cinnamon Apples with Red Wine and Peaches

6 apples, peeled and cored, sliced into wedges ($1.35)
2 small peaches, peeled and rough chopped ($.60)
1 1/2 T. butter ($.15)
3 T. red wine ($.30)
1/4 C. brown sugar ($.20)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon ($.05)
pinch of nutmeg, optional ($.05)

Melt butter in a medium sauce pan and add spices. Add in fruit and let cook 5 minutes, or until the peaches get tender, add wine and brown sugar, simmer for 15-20 minutes. Apples will be tender and the sauce will be deep red in color and slightly syrupy. If this sauce is too thick, stir in 1-2 T. water to thin it out.

Yields = 6 servings
Cost: $2.70
Cost per serving: $.45

Serves well with pork dishes, can be serves as a topping for pancakes and French toast, and paires well alongside rich egg dishes like omelets snf frittatas, and can be served over oatmeal or ice cream.

It's a fun alternative to applesauce and goes nicely with roasted chicken, lamb, and you can even use this for apple pie, cobbler, or crisp filling.

Roasted Chicken Po Boy Sandwich

I love the classic Po' Boy sandwich, having lived in Joliet, IL for years, the steak po boy is a classic sandwich, topped with loads of garlic butter and nutty Swiss cheese, I've finally tried a spin on this iconic sandwich and with my love of chicken, this was the perfect marriage of the two. Much easier on my wallet than steak, and a little leaner too, this is going to be a go-to meal for me.

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh ($1.15)
1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper ($.05)
1/2 tsp. roasted garlic powder ($.05)
1-2 T. lemon juice ($.05)
3 T. butter ($.25)
2 T. olive oil, divided ($.10)
2 cloves garlic, minced ($.10)
4 slices Swiss cheese ($.30)
4 French rolls ($1.35)

Cut the chicken breast in half and then cut the chicken in half through the widest part to give you 4 evenly sized chicken cutlet/filets. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and lemon juice.

Over low heat, melt the butter and add the garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and tender. Whisk in 1 T. olive oil.

In a 13x9 baking dish, put the chicken cutlets down and drizzle with olive oil and bake at 400 for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden on one side - then flip and cook another 3-4 minutes, or until juices run clear and center is no longer pink.

Cut French rolls in half length wise and brush with garlic butter. Grill on a griddle until bread is golden and firm.
Remove from grill and add cheese.

Pour any remaining garlic butter over chicken.
Put chicken on French rolls with cheese, cut in half and serve.

Yields - 8 half sandwiches.
Cost: $3.40
Cost per half sandwich: $.43 or $.85 per sandwich

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Affordable Mother's Day Brunch for Less Than $16

I love hosting get togethers for all occasions, and with being a part of a large family I do find it's easier on those of us watching a budget (like me, definitely me) to have the celebrations at home. I have some favorites go-to tips for entertaining on a budget and my menu for tomorrow looks far more expensive and elaborate than it is. For less than the cost of going to a Mother's Day brunch locally (about $16-$30 a head in my area), I can pull together a delicious meal for 10-12 people. Here's what I'm serving and the cost per dish (and the number of servings it yields).

Sandwich Tray: includes chicken salad, deli ham, deli sliced black forest turkey, and (home roasted) lemon pepper roasted pork tenderloin slices, cheddar cheese, swiss cheese, and colby jack cheese served with a variety of bread options - yields 48-60 finger sandwiches. $3.25
Fresh fruit and veggie platter with baby carrots, organic celery sticks, strawberries, and pineapple chunks: $1.50
Mushroom and Cheese Frittata - yields 16-20 appetizer sized servings. $1.00
Traditional Sour Cream Coffee Cake - yields 12-16 servings. $2.00
Chicken and Gnocchi Soup - yields 24 cups of soup $3.75
Homemade Garlic and Parmesan croutons to top the soup - yields 12 servings. Cost $.25.
One large pitcher of southern style sweet tea - yields 16 glasses. Cost $.40
One large pitcher of lemonade - yields 16 glasses. Cost $.20

Dessert choices are:
Red Velvet Cupcakes - yields 24 cupcakes. $2.00
Cookie Truffles - yields 30. $1.20

Total Cost of a Mother's Day Brunch for 10-12 people: $15.50.
Cost to serve 10-12 people, $1.55 a head or less.

If you are wondering how I got the prices so low on the menu above, here are a few things I did to make this brunch easy on my wallet:

- I roasted the pork tenderloin for the sandwich platter, I actually bought a half pork tenderloin, took the time to cut it into 4 smaller tenderloins like you see in the store that are pre-seasoned and used a free after coupons marinade to bump up the flavor. My pork tenderloin will yield more than 60 slices for less than $2.00. I figure half of that will go in the sandwich tray and I'll reserve a portion for a dinner during the week for my husband and I. Cook once, eat twice - love it!

- I roasted a whole chicken with lemon and rosemary 2 days before the brunch, and cut the chicken into cubes for the soup and for my Italian chicken salad. The chicken salad was made with free after coupon condiments, keep my costs low.

- Bought the bread for the sandwich tray at the bread thrift shop near my home. I can get a loaf of bread for $.50 and picked up some dinner rolls for $.50 a package. You can also eyeball bakery markdown racks for some goodies, it's always been a huge help to me when I'm entertaining.

- I bought organic celery on sale cheaper than the regular celery and cut it into celery sticks, a no brainer, but super healthy on my budget.
- Ditto for the pineapple chunks, I bought a whole pineapple and used the chunks from half of it for the party.

- Made my own croutons from some leftover Italian bread I needed to use up, tons of flavor and it took less than 10 minutes to make a double batch on the stove top. Toss bread with a little olive oil and garlic, pan sear until golden and while hot, top with parmesan cheese and a touch or parsley for color. Done!

- Skip the soda and serve only water, lemonade, and sweet tea. Keep it simple and keep it fun.

- Made some homemade veggie stock to keep the cost of the soup down and to give the soup more robust flavor. I had the celery and carrots on hand and onions are usually cheap (about $.25 a pound or less around here), so I sauteed the veggies and made a simple stock during the week. I also used the stock with the chicken when I roasted it to give it more flavor and to keep it moist and tender while I roasted it.

- Made my own coffee cake. It's easy to make, uses basic pantry and fridge ingredients so I always have what it takes to make it and it yields double the amount of servings of a store-bought coffee cake at less than half the price. Same for the red velvet cupcakes, we spend less than half the store cost for quadruple the yield. My husband loves these and we use Paula Deen's recipe. Sometimes you have to go Southern's just the way it has to be.

That's a whole lot of entertaining for a very small price tag, best of all - I get to through a killer Mother's Day Brunch at home and honor some of the powerful and amazing women I'm lucky to have in my life. Entertaining is always fun and easy, all you have to do is set a budget, write a menu, and do a little extra chopping and stirring. It's incredible how much you can save when you spend a little time in the kitchen.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Smoky Pork Tacos

I love grilled ribs, but have been looking for a good way to use them leftover. I've been having a lot of luck finding ribs marked down to under $1.50 a pound lately so there have been ribs on the menu every week for the past 3-4 weeks. Last night, I finally came up with a great way to use the leftover grilled ribs that kept them moist and flavorful, and we made incredible tacos. The entire dinner came together in 15 minutes and was amazingly good. Definitely worth giving a try when you have a leftover ribs hanging around in your refrigerator.

Smoky Pork Filling:
5-6 leftover grilled pork ribs, bone in ($3.25)
2/3 C. water (free)
1/3 C. red wine ($.25)
1 1/2 tsp. rib rub ($.05)
1/2 tsp. black pepper ($.05)

Taco Ingredients:
10-12 corn tortillas ($.35)
1 C. refried beans ($.40)
1 small minced onion ($.05)
1/3 C. sour cream ($.15)
3 T. minced cilantro ($.05)
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped ($.10)

Cut meat off the bone into small, bite sized pieces. Add 1/3 C. water and half of the red wine to a medium sized pan, heat over medium heat and add meat with seasonings - braise uncovered over medium low heat for 5-10 minutes, add more water and red wine as the meat absorbs the liquid and gets tender.

Yields = 10-12 tacos
Cost: $4.70

Smoky Rib Rub and Marinade

1 tsp. smoked sweet paprika ($.05)
1 tsp. black pepper ($.05)
1 tsp. cumin ($.05)
1 tsp. dry minced onion ($.05)
1/2 tsp. smoky salt ($.05)
1/2 tsp. oregano ($.05)
1/2 tsp. roasted garlic powder ($.05)
1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder ($.05)
1/4 tsp. cocoa powder ($.05)
1 T. brown sugar, optional ($.05)

Mix all ingredients well and rub into pork steaks, pork ribs, pork chops, or even use on your favorite cut of chicken. I love this rub for pork ribs, works great when grilled. Rub mixture into meat and let set for 4 hours to overnight.

Yields - 1 batch of rub, enough for 3-4 pounds of meat.

Cost: $.50

Make this into a marinade by combining the following ingredients with the spices:
1/4 C. worchestshire sauce ($.15)
2-3 T. olive oil ($.05)
2 T. red wine or apple cider vinegar ($.05)
2-3 T. lemon juice ($.05)
3-4 T. maple syrup, optional ($.05)

Whisk all together, including the spices - add crushed red pepper flake for heat or additional brown sugar for sweetness.
Marinade cost: $.85

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Arroz con Pollo

A classic Spanish comfort food, aaroz con pollo literally translates into rice with chicken. The hearty flavors of this dish make it a great dish when you are entertaining or just need a go-to one pot chicken dish.

6 oz. chorizo, removed from its casing and crumbled ($.50)
1 Spanish onion ($.10)
3 T. spanish creole seasoning ($.20)
8 pieces of bone in chicken (I used thighs) ($1.90)
1 large red bell pepper, minced ($.15)
1 yellow bell pepper, minced ($.15)
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced ($.10)
2 T. white wine ($.10)
3 1/2 C. chicken broth or stock ($1.00)
2 1/2 C. white or brown rice ($.25)
3 T. chopped fresh cilantro ($.10)

In a large, deep pot (5 qt or larger), brown crumbled chorizo. Remove the cooked chorizo from the pan. Season chicken with spanish creole seasoning and cook the chicken over medium high heat for 15 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly browned.
Set chicken aside and stir in minced onion, peppers, and garlic, cooking until onion is translucent and peppers are tender.
While those are cooking, debone chicken and lightly shred. Once veggies are cooked, return chorizo and shredded chicken to the pot, toss lightly to combine. Stir in white wine to deglaze the pan.

Add chicken stock or broth and rice. Cook covered for 15-20 minutes, or until rice is cooked through. Stir occasionally. Top with cilantro and serve with tortillas.

Yields = 10 servings
Cost: $4.55
Cost per serving: $.45

Spanish-Creole Seasoning

1 T. paprika ($.10)
2 tsp. salt ($.05)
1 tsp. black pepper ($.05)
2 tsp. Mexican oregano ($.05)
1/4 tsp. thyme ($.05)
1/8 tsp. cayenne ($.05)
1/2 tsp. cumin ($.05)
2 tsp. roasted garlic powder ($.05)

Combine all seasonings well, store in an airtight container.
Cost: $.45

Red Wine Ham Glaze

If you need to give a ham that perfect, straight from the trendy bistro flavor - this glaze couldn't be easier or better. I used this on a ham I picked up for $.89/lb. (a $4.50 entree that easily took center stage). For such a good price, this classic ham could not have been tastier, and this glaze really made it sing.

1/4 C. full bodied young red wine ($.35)
1 T. butter ($.10)
2 T. orange juice ($.05)
2 T. brown sugar ($.10)
1-2 tsp. molasses ($.05)

Combine all ingredients in a small pot and heat to a simmer. Once sugar has dissolved, pour the glaze over the ham.

Bake ham an additional 10-15 minutes after glazing.

Yields - 1 batch of glaze
Cost: $.65

Great way to use leftover wine, the red wine adds a lovely dimension to the glaze and pairs well with the smoky sweet flavors of the ham.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cranberry Orange Scones

2 1/2 C. flour ($.15)
1/2 tsp. baking soda ($.05)
2 tsp. baking powder ($.05)
3/4 C. plus 3 T. brown sugar ($.10)
1/8 tsp. cinnamon ($.05)
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 C. vanilla yogurt ($.35)
1/2 tsp. vanilla ($.05)
1 egg ($.10)
1/4 C. chilled butter, cubed ($.10)
1/3 C. dried cranberries ($.30)
juice of one orange ($.30)
1/4 C. chopped hazelnuts, optional ($.15)

Combine flour with baking soda, baking powder, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Zest one medium orange and add the zest to the flour mixture - set the orange aside.

Juice the orange into a small pan and heat over medium heat. Add cranberries and let simmer for 5-8 minutes or until cranberries have absorbed most of the juice and are soft to the touch. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Whisk egg, yogurt, and vanilla until well combined.

Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combine, work in chilled butter until a dough just starts to form.

Stir in the cooled cranberries and hazelnuts.

Heat oven to 400.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Measure out dough in 2-3 T. sized scoops. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if desired.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, until tops are slightly golden and firm to the touch.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yields: 14-17 small scones
Cost: $1.75
Cost per scone: $.12

Monday, January 9, 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Easily the most decadent cupcakes I've ever tried, very moist and fluffy though not too sweet, these treats are a huge hit with the adults, the flavors are bold and addictive!

1 1/4 C. flour ($.10)
3/4 C. sugar ($.10)
1/2 tsp. baking soda ($.05)
1/2 tsp. salt ($.05)
1/2 tsp. cocoa powder ($.10)
3/4 C. vegetable oil ($.15)
1/2 C. buttermilk, room temperature ($.15)
1 large egg at room temperature ($.10)
2 tsp. red food coloring ($.25)
1 tsp. white distilled vinegar (free after coupons)
1 tsp. vanilla extract ($.15)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. light cream cheese, softened ($.79)
1 stick butter, softened ($.20)
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract ($.10)
2 C. powdered sugar ($.25)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 C. muffin pan with cupcake papers.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla until mixed thoroughly. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until completely smooth and thoroughly combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

Pipe frosting onto the cooled cupcakes, refrigerate after frosting.

Garnish with a dusting of cocoa powder, if desired.

Cook's Note: Frost the cupcakes using a resealable bag with the corner cut - cut a small edge to make frosting easy and fast.

Yield - 12 cupcakes
Cost: $2.54
Cost per cupcake: $.21